England completed a 3-0 victory in the Ashes on Sunday. It was their third successive series triumph against Australia, their fourth in the last five and until hell freezes over it will never be other than a cause for supreme joy in the land.
The outpouring of jubilation last night was as gushing and heartfelt as those which accompanied their great triumphs in 2005, 2009 and 2010-11. If that had seemed unlikely for most of the fifth Investec Test, it was made absolutely essential by the gloriously spirited manner in which they went about trying to acquire a thrilling and unprecedented fourth win in a home series.
But the mood was tempered by a feeling of frustration and annoyance among a crowd who had been regally entertained throughout the final day. There were four overs left of the series, England needed 21 more runs to win with five wickets in hand – a position which made possible by Michael Clarke’s necessarily generous declaration and England’s rediscovered sense of adventure – when the umpires decreed that the light was too unfit to continue.
Australia, who had indulged in time-wasting tactics to avert an unwelcome conclusion, barely disguised their rush for the dressing room. They were already the first team from their country for 36 years to fail to win a match in an Ashes series, they had narrowly avoided being the first of all to lose four to England in England.
Set 227 to win in 44 overs, England might well have made it. Thus the match ended in a draw but what a climax it had been, in utter contrast to what had gone before. All the torpor of Friday, when England proceeded at a funereal rate, and the gloom of a washed out Saturday, which was entertaining by comparison, were banished in a scintillating denouement.
The platform for an unprecedented triumph was perfectly erected for Kevin Pietersen at the start and he built on it rapidly and hungrily. It was the scenario for which such players yearn and he seized the moment.
When Pietersen came to the crease, England need 141 runs from 24 overs. Immediately, he plonked his foot front well down the wicket and boomed a series of fours. He never stopped booming. His 62 came from 55 balls, with the field spread far and wide and had he managed to stay around for another over it might have been England’s day.
Pietersen was accompanied in a partnership of 141 by Jonathan Trott, who compensated for a quiet series by composing a bristling 59, his best score in the five matches. If it needed Pietersen to make the win possible, Trott recognised precisely what he had to do in giving his partner the strike and batting in a decisive yet measured fashion.
Ian Bell stroked 17 at a run a ball, still not wholly throwing aesthetics out of the window, Chris Woakes was not overawed. But, after Bell was run out trying and then deciding against a sharp single, day was turning to night. The match and the series were done.
Only Test cricket is capable of doing this, of permitting such a dramatic transformation when the only destination seemed to be another trip to dullsville. On this occasion, it derived almost entirely from the tourists’ desire to win.
Clarke, Australia’s captain, threw the match wide open after tea after a day which had already been at complete odds with the way it had previously been played. There was an urgency, a desire to entertain that appeared to have been mislaid.
It ended in the highest of drama. The overs were ticking by, the night was drawing in, Australia, hardly surprisingly were indulging in time-wasting gactics. England arrived at the last six overs of the series needing exactly a run a ball. In truth, despite the floodlights, it was barely fit for play in a club evening league. Both batsmen and bowlers could hardly pick up the ball.
The fifth day brought 447 runs and 17 wickets, breathless stuff on any day of any Test, hardly creditable in the context of this match. The game simply never stopped moving. Perhaps sore at the criticism meted out to them for their strategy on the third day, perhaps aware that it was time for a bit of fun, England batted with gusto after a slightly delayed start.
Matt Prior found his best form of the summer, batting the way that suits him best, Graeme Swann enjoyed himself enormously. England added 116 in 28 overs, their best scoring rate of the series. James Faulkner, the Australian debutant who had railed against their tactics in a press conference the previous night, took four cheap wickets.
Australia then had to decide how they wanted to play it. Once more they juggled their batting order and came out slugging through Shane Watson. Faulkner, at three joined in and Clarke made 28 from 28 balls. Their pursuit of glory and quick runs meant that wickets were lost. At tea, Clarke called it a day at 111 for 6 from 23 overs.
What would England do? They went for the line, not in any overt way at first, not stupidly. But Alastair Cook ensured the board ticked over and Joe Root’s waft at the estimable Ryan Harris was proof of what they intended. Clarke pursued victory of his own for long enough. He had stationed, slips, short-legs, leg-gullies and the other close fielding paraphernalia needed if his side were to have a chance of bowling out. That is what he wanted.
The advent of Pietersen forced him to retreat. It was compelling stuff for a while and a win which England really seemed not to deserve loomed into view. They arrived at the last 15 overs needing 85.
But things changed, perhaps irrevocably, when Pietersen slightly underclubbed one. Bell came and reminded everyone why he was man of the series. The job was done. It was not achieved in epic circumstances but it was another moment of history for England.
Stephen Brenkley's England reports
Third disappointing Ashes series out of four but his studious, undemonstrative leadership tells its own story. 7
Welcome to tough Test cricket, young man. One compelling innings at Lord’s, lots to admire but plenty to do to nail opening role. 6
Gave it a bash yesterday, but acute field settings and short bowling restricted his usual scoring opportunities. 5
Not himself on slow pitches - until the very last – but his clear desire to contribute may well be aided by quicker surfaces in Australia. 7
Wonderful to watch in each of his three hundreds, all scored in adversity. Much more to come from him now. 9
Dropped for final match and never convinced in a pivotal position. Important few months ahead. 4
One poor series, alleviated by brisk innings yesterday, does not diminish his status as world’s best keeper-batsman. Will appreciate faster pitches in Australia. 5
Enhanced his reputation as a reliable, no frills all-rounder. Needs to prove fitness to be on tour. 7
One incisive spell at Durham made his series. Forget the peripheral stuff, he can win matches. 8
Telling contribution at Lord’s, effective work elsewhere, continues to haunt left-handers. A smart player. 8
Hit the ground running at Trent Bridge, weary because of workload, must be looked after to ensure durability. 7
Played only one match, if he has sorted run-up problems, his best years still lie ahead of him as tall, genuine speed merchant. 4
Solid cricketer, learning all the time, in certain conditions could be useful. 6
Froze on the day. An odd pick and it is to be hoped he has another chance down the track. 4
Name Runs Ave
Ian Bell 562 (10 inns) 62.44
Chris Woakes 42 (2) 42.00
Kevin Pietersen 388 (10) 38.80
Joe Root 339 (10) 37.66
Jonathan Trott 293 (10) 29.30
Jonny Bairstow 203 (7) 29.00
Alastair Cook 277 (10) 27.70
Tim Bresnan 103 (5) 25.75
Stuart Broad 179 (7) 25.57
Graeme Swann 126 (7) 25.20
Matt Prior 133 (8) 19.00
James Anderson 36 (7) 7.20
Steven Finn 2 (2) 2.00
Simon Kerrigan 1 (1) -
Name Wickets Ave
Joe Root 3 (4 inns) 11.33
Stuart Broad 22 (10) 27.45
Jonathan Trott 1 (3) 28.00
Graeme Swann 26 (10) 29.03
James Anderson 22 (10) 29.59
Tim Bresnan 10 (6) 29.60
Steven Finn 2 (2) 58.50
Chris Woakes 1 (1)
England v Australia
The Kia Oval (Fifth day of five): England drew with Australia
Australia won toss
AUSTRALIA First Innings 492-9 dec. (Watson 176, Smith 138no, Anderson 4-95)
ENGLAND First Innings Overnight 247-4 (Root 68, Pietersen 50)
I R Bell c Haddin b Faulkner 45
143 balls 5 fours
C R Woakes c Clarke b Harris 25
70 balls 5 fours
†M J Prior c Starc b Faulkner 47
57 balls 8 fours
S C J Broad b Starc 9
16 balls 1 four
G P Swann b Faulkner 34
24 balls 1 six 5 fours
J M Anderson c Haddin b Faulkner 4
10 balls 1 four
S C Kerrigan not out 1
Extras (b11 lb10 w5 nb3) 29
Total (144.4 overs) 377
Fall: 1-68, 2-118, 3-176, 4-217, 5-269, 6-299, 7-315, 8-363, 9-368.
Bowling: M A Starc 33-5-92-3 (2nb, 2wd) (3-0-9-0; 2-1-1-0; 8-1-21-0; 5-1-11-0; 5-2-6-1; 3-0-12-1; 5-0-19-0; 2-0-13-1), R J Harris 28-10-64-2 (1nb) (3-3-0-0; 4-0-14-0; 6-3-5-1; 4-1-7-0; 3-1-7-0; 3-1-8-0; 5-1-23-1), J P Faulkner 19.4-3-51-4 (3-0-8-0; 4-2-9-0; 3-1-5-0; 2-0-7-0; 4-0-11-1; 3.4-0-11-3), P M Siddle 28-7-74-0 (1wd) (10-4-18-0; 2-0-8-0; 4-1-10-0; 2-1-1-0; 3-0-9-0; 3-0-12-0; 4-1-16-0), N M Lyon 28-8-59-1 (3-0-8-0; 14-4-23-1; 4-0-9-0; 5-4-1-0; 2-0-18-0), S P D Smith 8-3-16-0 (5-1-15-0; 3-2-1-0)
AUSTRALIA Second Innings
D A Warner c & b Anderson 12
28 balls 2 fours
S R Watson c Pietersen b Swann 26
32 balls 1 six 2 fours
J P Faulkner c Prior b Broad 18
22 balls 1 six
†B J Haddin c Prior b Broad 0
*M J Clarke not out 28
28 balls 3 fours
S P D Smith c Swann b Broad 7
R J Harris b Broad 1
M A Starc not out 13
13 balls 2 fours
Extras (b4 lb2) 6
Total (for 6 dec, 23 overs) 111
Fall: 1-34, 2-44, 3-50, 4-67, 5-83, 6-85.
Did Not Bat: C J L Rogers, P M Siddle, N M Lyon.
Bowling: J M Anderson 6-1-27-1 (one spell), S C J Broad10-2-43-4 (4-2-11-0; 6-0-32-4), G P Swann 7-0-39-1 (one spell)
ENGLAND Second Innings
*A N Cook lbw b Faulkner 34
53 balls 4 fours
J E Root c Haddin b Harris 11
17 balls 2 fours
I J L Trott lbw b Faulkner 59
87 balls 6 fours
K P Pietersen c Warner b Harris 61
55 balls 10 fours
I R Bell run out 17
17 balls 1 four
C R Woakes not out 17
13 balls 1 four
Extras (lb5 nb2) 7
Total (for 5, 40 overs) 206
Fall: 1-22, 2-86, 3-163, 4-170, 5-206.
Did Not Bat: †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, S C Kerrigan, J M Anderson.
Bowling: R J Harris 5-0-21-2 (1nb) (4-0-18-1; 1-0-3-1), M A Starc 7-0-48-0 (1nb) (3-0-13-0; 3-0-23-0; 1-0-12-0), P M Siddle 3-0-16-0 (one spell), N M Lyon 10-0-44-0 (one spell), M J Clarke 2-0-4-0 (one spell), J P Faulkner 8-1-47-2 (3-1-20-1; 5-0-27-1), S R Watson 5-0-22-0 (3-0-15-0; 2-0-7-0)
Progress: Fourth Day: No play. Fifth Day: England First Innings: 250 in 117 overs, 300 in 130 overs, 350 in 137 overs, Lunch: 350-7 in 137 overs (MJ Prior 35, GP Swann 24). Australia Second Innings: 50 in 12.1 overs, 100 in 21.6 overs, Tea: 111-6d in 23 overs (MJ Clarke 28, MA Starc 13). England Second Innings: 50 in 11.2 overs, 100 in 23 overs, 150 in 31.1 overs,200 in 39.4 overs.
K P Pietersen: 50 off 36 balls (9 fours), I J L Trott: 50 off 79 balls (5 fours),
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and HDPK Dharmasena (Sri Lanka)
TV Umpire: AL Hill (New Zealand)
Match Referee: RS Mahanama (Sri Lanka)